As Police Academy cadets stood at attention at Napa Valley College on Wednesday, speakers honored fallen peace officers and dedicated a memorial wall to honor Jermaine Gibson, the first academy graduate to die on duty.
Gibson, a Vallejoan who graduated from the academy in December 2002, was a police officer with the Cathedral Police Department in Southern California when he died from injuries that he suffered in a high-speed chase on March 19, 2011. He left behind a wife and an infant son.
The memorial wall, made of black granite, is located on the west side of Building 1000 that houses the police academy. It is intended to accommodate the names of any future graduate or academy staff who die in the line of duty.
Damien Sandoval, director of the college’s Criminal Justice Training Center, was an instructor at the school when Gibson was a cadet.
“I remember his face. I remember his smile,” Sandoval said before an audience that included Gibson’s brother, Taurean Gibson.
Also in attendance were various law enforcement representatives, including motor officers from Fairfield and Napa police and Napa County Sheriff John Robertson.
“Jermaine touched my life. He touched others’ lives,” Sandoval said.
The memorial wall project began in 2001, when the cadets, who were enrolled in the academy during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, donated money from their class fund to remember law enforcement officers who died that day.
Over time, the project evolved, with each class donating money into a trust account to pay for a memorial, explained Sandoval. Eventually the account grew to $5,000.
The plans to build the memorial wall began in earnest after Gibson’s death two years ago.
Sandoval and Gregory Miraglia, who was the academy director on 9/11 and is now dean of career technical education at the college, designed the memorial wall together.
“There weren’t any obstacles other than getting the staff time during the budget crisis to plan and execute the project,” Miraglia said in an email.
“We value every one of our graduates and care about them throughout their careers. We think it is important that current students never forget the sacrifice made by their predecessors. We also believe that the memorial will remind students every day about the real dangers of the law enforcement job and about the importance and critical nature of the training they are completing.”
“The memorial has always been part of the plan for the academy grounds,” Miraglia said. “It’s just not one of those things you build until you need it.”
The memorial, measuring 4.5-feet tall and 7-feet wide, was dedicated Wednesday after the cadets and a dozen law enforcement representatives returned from the fifth annual Peace Officer Memorial Run. Cadets organized the 40-minute run along the Napa River and Soscol Avenue with the help of Napa County Sheriff’s Deputy Geoff Rochester to mark Peace Officer Memorial Week.